70th Anniversary Interview with CEO, Sharon Birkman
September 2021 marks the 70th anniversary of Birkman International.
1. What emotions do you feel about celebrating Birkman’s 70th anniversary?
I am feeling a blend of pride and humility. Pride that my parents worked so hard to create a methodology that has survived and continued to evolve. Looking back, they were entrepreneurs before the term was popular; Birkman & Associates was a start-up with two people, no money, and resources that were limited to a good idea. Every report they turned out would take hours to painstakingly manually score. Today’s advances in technology have allowed us to scale and reach people across the globe.
2. In what ways has Birkman grown in the past 70 years?
The progress over the last seven decades has enabled a sizable database. In the 1960s, my father led the way by being the first to do computer scoring by placing his personality assessment on an IBM 1401 mainframe. This idea, radical at the time, enabled him to save the data for research. As we grew over the years, many changes have been made to the “look and feel.” Another way Birkman has grown has been by expanding our product offerings. These days, we offer convenient solutions for applying The Birkman Method in pre-packaged workshops for teams (such as High-Performing Teams and our Birkman At Work toolkits) and a comprehensive leadership development series (Rise To Lead) that can be used for all employees and in any company.
3. What have been the most memorable highlights for you?
There have been so many for me during my tenure at Birkman. What stands out first are the wonderful people I’ve been privileged to meet from all parts of the world. Many have come to our Birkman offices over the years, and I’ve been honored to visit South Korea, South Africa, Australia, the Middle East, and a wealth of other places in North America. Our Birkman conferences are an international gathering of inspirational people who share our passion for helping others.
With my high Birkman literary Interest, writing two books that feature Birkman in very different ways was a major highlight. The first, published in 2013 by Jossey-Bass, was “The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work.” I partnered with Stephanie Capparell from The Wall Street Journal, and together we featured numerous stories from named Birkman consultants about the many ways they had successfully applied The Birkman Method.
My second book was released by Forbes in March of 2020, just as the pandemic struck. This book, “Creatures of Contact: Why You Need More Than a Personality Test” speaks to the human need we all share for meaningful social connection. This was the book I’d wanted to write for a long time. Close to being a brief memoir, it addresses our essential need for healthy human connections and how Birkman can serve as a way for us to better connect by understanding ourselves and others. While advancements in technology have allowed so many digital ways to connect, loneliness has been called an epidemic since 2017, and the pandemic has been a stark reminder of how much we miss our day-to-day connections and just being able to gather in person.
Over my tenure, I’ve been pleased to see the company grow organically year after year. We’ve enjoyed steady growth over the past 70 years, and my goal is to see this pattern accelerate and continue in the years to come.
It’s been another highlight to see my adult children involved with their granddad’s mission. My first-born daughter Margaret worked in the company before she started her own family, and now Amy, my middle child, is excelling as an independent Birkman facilitator and consultant. Without question, our entire family cares deeply about the Birkman legacy, so I think my father’s smiling from heaven at seeing his dream live on.
4. What is your vision for the future?
My vision for the future is to see the growth trajectory of Birkman continue with even greater breadth, depth, and integrity. I have felt responsible for the legacy of Birkman and want to ensure it never deviates from its original purpose: to help people understand themselves and others. Our corporate mission today remains essentially the same as where it was when our journey began. On all our screensavers here at the office, our vision statement is to “Harness the power of perception to improve and transform human relationships.” Simply stated, this is it: then, now, and for the future.
5. What do you hope Birkman will accomplish?
Something that has been a long-time goal is to help organizations fully integrate Birkman in different ways at every level of the company. As we have almost completed this goal, we are currently working on a dynamic platform that will make it easier for employees to access what they need from Birkman when they need it. We want Birkman to have long-term value for the organization—more than just an event that comes and goes. We want their investment in Birkman data to continue to give back over the lifetime of the employee and the company.
Where there’s conflict, we want them to get to the root of the misunderstanding rather than dismissing people or losing talent. One of the best examples of this was when my husband and I stood in line in New York City to greet a speaker. When we finally made it to the front and I said my name, I heard someone call out: “Are you Birkman from that personality test?” She wanted to tell me her story of a co-worker who was driving her crazy. “I’d decided she came into my office just to irritate me,” she said. “But when we did Birkman, I realized she didn’t have it in for me; she just saw things differently. The Birkman Method showed me how her perspective brought significant value to our team.” Beaming, she concluded, “We’ve even managed to become friends!”
Stories like these are the ultimate tribute and the best reward. This is exactly what my dad always dreamed his creation would become. My goal is to ensure that his dream continues for the decades to come.
Check out our Birkman timeline of events below!